Marketing for Writers, or How to Build Relationships, Not Customers

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Welcome to the first installment of What I Learned, a new blog series on the lessons I’ve learned from books: writing craft, character development, the business of writing, and everything in between.

My current read (from the White Plains Public Library, naturally) is The Art of Asking, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help, by Amanda Palmer.

This book is a revelation.

Amanda (I feel like she wouldn’t mind me addressing her on a first-name basis) has taken everything she learned as a street statue performer, a stripper, a barista, an artist, a musician, and an all-around fearless human being and distilled it into a beautiful ode to what it means to connect to people. Really, deeply, truly connect.

So, in a sense, it’s the best book I’ve ever read on marketing for writers / filmmakers / artists / everyone trying to share something with the world. (For purposes of this post, I’ll focus on writing.)

The secret? It’s not about “marketing.” Or “sales.” Or pushing products on people. It’s about genuinely reaching others, connecting to them, making them feel something real for however long a time they spend in the world you’ve created. It’s about establishing relationships with your readers.

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So, so simple. And completely contrary to what so many book marketing coaches preach. Their focus is on “author platform” and growing your social media following. In a world of data and analytics, numbers seem to be the only metrics that count.

Because how do you quantify the value of someone who reads your words  – whether it’s a tweet, blog post, Instagram post, or book – and feels some comfort knowing that they’re not alone, or inspiration from seeing your success, or the sheer pleasure of being transported to another world through your story for a little while?

You can’t put a number or a dollar sign on it, but that’s Amanda’s message: If you want to build a following, you have to connect with your readers / viewers / listeners. See them, so that they know they’re not just a number to you, the same way you’re not just a number to them.

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You’re building relationships, not customers.

I’ve felt this first-hand as a reader. Last year, I read The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. When I found out she’s going to release a new book this year, I gushed my excitement on twitter, and she liked me tweet. Ruth Ware liked my tweet. I don’t normally fangirl over people (except for Ruth Bader Ginsberg, because obviously), but it was so neat to have an author whose work I admire take a moment to say, in twitter language, “thanks.”

Anne Rice is the Queen of connecting to readers. She has published dozens of books and I’m sure she has a full schedule of manuscript deadlines, speaking engagements, and an all-around fabulous life, but she still takes the time to talk to her followers. As in, she’ll pop into Facebook and host discussions and personally respond to their thoughts. What a way to show her love and appreciation for her readers!

And last but not least, one of my indie author role models, Kelly Dowling, is so, so good at making each reader feel special and connected. She shares her advice selflessly, is super encouraging of other writers, and responds to every single note of praise or kudos that she gets. And the best part is, you can tell that she genuinely enjoys these connections – like Amanda says, it feels real. (It also helps that she’s a damn good writer. She has a new book coming out next month – The Winding Maze – and the trailer makes me want to read it right. friggin. now.)

So, writer / filmmaker / artist friends, if you’re struggling to figure this whole “marketing” and “platform” thing out, start by taking stock of the relationships you’ve already built. Nurture them, welcome new readers / viewers / fellow creatives into your tribe, and share yourself – your genuine, amazing, wonderful self. It grows from there.

Yours truly, one connection at a time,

Radina

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